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Jeff Bezos helped the Washington Post ‘take advantage of the gift the internet had to offer': Marty Baron

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Former Washington Post Executive Editor, Marty Baron, joins 'Influencers with Andy Serwer' to discuss his experience working under Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos.

Video Transcript

ANDY SERWER: You credited Jeff Bezos for shifting the strategy of the paper when he bought it in 2013, saying, quote, "he saw an opportunity that I think others did not see," end quote. What did you mean specifically by that, Marty?

MARTY BARON: Well, prior to that, "The Post" had been focused on, as it put it at the time, being for and about Washington. So yes, it would cover the government, it would cover politics, but fundamentally, it was a regional publication. Jeff came in and said that the model for "The Post" was really no longer working. All of the pillars of our business had really collapsed.

We had suffered all the pain that the internet had to offer, but that we had failed to take advantage of the gift that the internet had to offer. And that gift was, essentially, world-wide distribution at little incremental cost. And so we should take advantage of that [INAUDIBLE] assets. We were based in the nation's capital, which is a good base for becoming a national and even international publication, that we had the name, the "Washington Post," which is a name that can be leveraged to a national and international level.

And we also had a history and identity really that was forged at the time of Watergate of shining a light and dark corners. And so a lot of people who had never actually read "The Post" before had an impression of what "The Post" was and what its mission was. And so we were in a position to capitalize on that, but we had not yet done so.

ANDY SERWER: What was your relationship with Jeff Bezos like, Marty? I mean, how often did you speak with him? What did you talk about? What is he like?

MARTY BARON: Well, my relationship was really largely in a group setting. There was also a senior management group which met with him occasionally. It was a small group of people, just a handful. But most of the time, it was a larger group of people depending on the subject that we talked about. And I would participate in those meetings.

Those meetings were typically held once every two weeks. At times, we would go even longer without a meeting. But at the beginning, we had pretty regular meetings. And you know, my own relationship with them was good, it's professional. I mean, keep in mind that as a journalist, I was also responsible for our coverage of him.

And so we had a very good, strong, professional relationship. And he was supportive of what we were doing as journalists. But it was not what I would consider to be a close personal friendship or anything like that. But we had a very good-- we had a very good relationship.

ANDY SERWER: Kind of following up on that, some people have speculated that he bought the paper to wield influence. And you said over the years that he never meddled with editorial. So what was your sense of why he owned the paper? And what is he getting out of it, then?

MARTY BARON: Well, you know, I mean this might sound a bit naive, but I don't think it is-- and that is, first of all, I think he actually did believe in the mission of the press. I think he does, even though he's the target of it. I still think he believes that the press serves a very important role in American democracy and he actually believes in American democracy. And secondly, as I indicated before, he thought that, you know, there was a real opportunity, a business opportunity here.

I think that he is not a person who, you know, necessarily wants to buy a sports team, run a sports team, but his sport is really business, as best I can tell-- and space. And so here was an opportunity, it was a unique property, one that you couldn't find elsewhere in the country-- I mean, you know, the only other national or international publications were, essentially, the "New York Times" and the "Wall Street Journal." the "Wall Street Journal" was a particular kind of publication targeted toward business. The "New York Times" already was a national and somewhat international publication.

And so here was an opportunity with "The Post" to turn it around. And I think that he was intrigued by the challenge of doing so.